Plenty of Londoners can look a little blank if you casually mention that you live in Holloway. Some may even ask if it’s anywhere near the prison (erm, the clue is in the name?). Located between Angel’s Upper Street, Finsbury Park and Kentish Town, Holloway (or Upper Holloway, depending on the side of the street you’re on) is a slightly hidden, historic Islington neighbourhood with a high street you’ve probably driven along even if you’ve never walked down it. Here are a few facts about the area:
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Cows coming through
Holloway was a relatively rural spot until well into the eighteenth century, and the route now known as the Holloway Road was used to herd cattle into town to be sold at Smithfield Market. Islington’s pasture once provided space to graze over half a million sheep and cows at any time. Just try to imagine that the next time you walk along Upper Street. As London grew, the city sprawled out into the countryside, tearing up the fields to build houses and shops in the nineteenth century and turning Holloway into a bustling metropolitan suburb.
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Look past some of Holloway Road’s more tired-looking shopfronts and you’ll notice the area has some hidden architectural gems. There aren’t many places you can catch the latest Bond film in a Grade II-listed Art Deco picture house. Originally built in 1932, the stunning cinema – now the Holloway Odeon – was sadly severely damaged during WWII (Holloway was heavily bombed during the war thanks to its proximity to King’s Cross train station). Today much of the cinema has been restored, but the smell of old popcorn takes the shine off its former glory. At one time Holloway Road was home to ten different cinemas, including the old Savoy Cinema, which was known as The Coronet until Wetherspoons bought the building in 1996. If you stand outside the pub today and look up above the posters advertising cheap pints, you can see the old cinema’s name picked out in Art Deco lettering.
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A truly rubbish football stadium
One of the most recognisable structures in Holloway is the vast Emirates Stadium – home to Arsenal Football Club and the second largest Premier League stadium in the UK. But not every Arsenal fan knows that they’re cheering for their team on top of Islington’s old municipal waste dump. Until a lucrative sponsorship deal, the stadium was known as Ashburton Grove, a name shared with the old waste processing facility. Now that’s recycling for you.
A photo posted by Alexander Esq. (@aj_esq) on Jan 21, 2013 at 8:26am PST
The Ballad of… Holloway Prison
The presence of Holloway Prison lends the neighbourhood a slightly dodgy reputation, but a number of distinguished individuals have done time at HMP Holloway. After its construction in 1852, the prison was used to incarcerate men and women, including a number of suffragettes, political activists, and the playwright and poet Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s stay in Holloway Prison allegedly inspired him to write ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’, although today’s rebuilt ’70s and ’80s structure probably wouldn’t inspire anything nearly as poetic in its current all-female inmates.
A photo posted by typekitty (@typekitty) on Oct 24, 2015 at 7:43am PDT
Holloway has a number of other literary claims to fame besides incarcerating noted writers. The protagonist of 1892 novel ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ lived with his family in a fictional Holloway street, and Douglas Adams, author of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ was once a local resident. Upper Holloway also hosts an annual word-filled event – the ArchWay With Words Literary Festival featuring writers, comedians, scientists and musicians.
A magnet for musicians
Holloway also has some impressive musical credentials. The birthplace of rock band The Holloways, this corner of north London was also a one-time home to John Lydon of the Sex Pistols, legendary producer Joe Meek, grubby rocker Pete Doherty and Suggs from Madness (who happens to live around the corner from me!). The Nambucca pub was a legendary local venue, hosting gigs by Mumford Sons frontman Marcus Mumford, The Libertines and Laura Marling, until a massive fire forced it to close in 2008. But music fans will be happy to hear that after extensive renovation the venue is open and rocking again these days.
And if all those exciting local celebrities aren’t enough of a thrill for you, Holloway is also home to this lady: